Each major culinary hub around the world has its iconic chefs and establishments, these usually constitute something on the avant garde side as well as traditional. Bray has the Fat Duck and Waterside Inn, Paris has Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Ducasse, San Sebastian has Arzak and Martin Berasategui. Last week, whilst visiting New York for work, I continued my search for its gastronomic equivalent.
The Michelin world only recently made it to the US. With only three cities rated, NYC was the first and holds five restaurants with the coveted three star category: Per Se, Masa, Le Bernadin, Jean Georges and Daniel. With the exception of Masa ($600 a head for sushi? No thanks), they all pretty much fit in the traditional bucket. Having been to Per Se once and Jean Georges on several occasions, it was time to test the master, Daniel Boulud’s flagship, creatively named Daniel. So, how do they compare?
Bar Boulud and all of Daniel’s other derivations are fabulous. Quick good quality food at great prices. If this is an affordable dilution of the essence, an eau de toilette to the parfum, my heart skipped a beat at the thought of our meal last Monday.
The grand entrance of Daniel sits on an elegant street in the Upper East side. Compared to Per Se’s odd mall location in Columbus Circle and Jean George’s gaudy Trump Hotel, it certainly makes the right first impression.
We were somewhat early so we took a seat at the bar and ordered their signature cocktails. A white sangria made with a frozen orchid in a circular ice cube, (is it called a cube if it is circular?), a gin cocktail with cucumber and a rum based drink with honey and tarragon. Bliss. Compared to the standard offering of a glass of champagne by its rivals, Daniel was ahead by a mile. Once sufficiently lubricated, we were seated and ordered the tasting menu.
To begin with, we had an amuse bouches selection whose principle ingredients were carrots. Now it might have been the mixologist that obliterated my taste buds but all I encountered were bland variations of the same theme. The play on textures was not strong enough to differentiate them either. Compared to a playful take of an ice cream cone made of smoked salmon at Per Se (it was also flavourless but the thought mattered) or an exquisite scrambled egg topped with vodka foam and caviar at Jean Georges, this was a real disappointment.
Course after course revealed more parcels of disaster with a climatic main course akin to the ending of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville: chicken breast. There was only one other incident where I encountered such an unimaginative main (will blog about this some other time) but nothing comes as close to what we faced here. Luke warm, its cold and rubbery skin still hanging on to the mother ship, it was nothing short of a mistake. So we complained about our entire experience.
Truth be told, the service was spectacular. The staff was attentive, as one would expect, apologetic and accommodating. But the issue I face when dining in New York is the need to replicate what the French have in their mother soil for three times the price and a third the quality of ingredients. NY seems trapped back in the day where foie gras ruled the earth and lobster was what gave you a star. That was certainly the impression I got from Per Se and except for the occasional twist, Jean Georges.
Then there’s the price. With Per Se leading the pack at $295 followed by Daniel at $205, Jean Georges beats the lot with the best food at a relatively affordable $148.
Daniel (1 out of 5): 60 East 65th Street, New York, +1 212 288 0033
Per Se (2 out of 5): 10 Columbus Circle, New York, +1 212 823 9335
Jean Georges (3 out of 5): 1 Central Park West, New York, +1 212 299 3900